Rustic Memory is the second book in the Rustic series. It follows Rustic Melody and had a slightly different feel. It certainly starts off with a much more emotional scene.
The Australian heat was in full force even though summer had just kicked in. Harsh rays of sun beat down on the brown earth, and the dust was thick. The whinnies of the horses competed with the shouts coming from the group of boys astride their mounts.
Ranger shifted, throwing his head back and stepping sideways, his movements brought under control by the sure direction of his rider. Tyler Samuels reached down, laid a palm on the horse’s neck, and stroked reassuringly. “There, there, fella. Easy. That’s a boy, Ranger,” he crooned as he bent closer to the stallion’s ear.
Tyler looked up at the approach of another rider and a grin split his face as he stared at Chris astride his horse.
Jeez, he’s beautiful.
An Akubra shaded his face, but Ty knew that under the brim of the hat were eyes the colour of amber. Just knowing those golden eyes were focused his way had the blood rushing to Tyler’s face and he could feel his cheeks pinking. He’d been in love with Chris since the eighth grade and still melted under his attention. And to know Chris felt the same? That made Ty the luckiest kid in Armidale.
“Hey,” Chris said as he drew alongside.
“Hey,” Ty echoed.
“Are we still on for later?” Chris’s voice dropped low, although the chances of them being heard over the hoofbeats was next to none.
“You bet.” Ty smiled, his lip quirking as he tried to hide his excitement. But it was impossible not to show his happiness at the thought of spending a couple of hours alone with Chris, and the answering wink from those amber eyes confirmed Chris had got the message. “I’ve got to take care of some chores or the old man’ll kill me, but it shouldn’t take too long. I can be at the river about six.”
“Cool,” Chris said. “Don’t forget to bring your towel.”
The river was their favourite meeting spot, although at this time of year it was more of a creek. A trickle of water managed to snake its way through the rocks lining the riverbed and fill a small pool, but most of the boys in town went to the public swimming pool where there was more water—and more girls—and some of the guys preferred the adventure of swimming in a dam on one of their properties. Tyler liked the rock pool, though. It might have been a puddle a lot of the time, but it meant time with Chris away from prying eyes. Time mucking around in the water and drying off in the sun, with Chris dressed only in swim trunks. Oh yeah.
“You guys coming?” The voice broke through his reverie, and Tyler blinked away the image of a nearly naked Chris covered in sparkling droplets of water. Thank goodness, because his dick had started to respond to his thoughts, which wouldn’t make for a very comfortable ride. Both boys looked across the small paddock to see Lachlan beckoning from where he waited with his kid brother, Robbie. Robbie was a couple of years younger but liked to hang around with his big brother Lachlan and his friends. Robbie was an annoying little shit, really, because he always seemed to have his gaze fixed on Chris and Tyler, glancing away nervously whenever they approached. It almost made Ty wonder if Robbie suspected something.
He’d better keep his trap shut if he does.
“C’mon, let’s get going,” Lachlan called again. His horse stepped sideways under its impatient rider.
“Yeah, we’d better get moving. Quicker we get back, quicker we can get out of here. I’ll see you at six, right?” Chris shot Tyler another wink before pulling on the reins and nudging his horse in the direction of the others.
Tyler turned Ranger and headed to join the small group. But his mind wasn’t on the activity ahead; his thoughts were where they usually were—filled with Chris. The guys would be appalled if they knew the sort of thoughts Tyler had, let alone knew the types of things he and Chris got up to. He chuckled at the thought, then sobered quickly. The few times being gay had come up in conversation with their friends, the crude jokes and innuendoes had been enough to warn them that sharing their secrets may not be the best thing. Not until they’d left school, at least.
Two weeks to go until the last term of high school would be over and year twelve complete. Then, after Christmas, he and Chris were hitting the road and heading to the city. Tyler was going to study hospitality management, and Chris was hoping to get the grades for veterinary science at Sydney University. Ty knew Chris would ace his exams. He excelled at everything he put his mind to, whether it was schoolwork or rugby. Yep, Ty had lucked out and scored the best and brightest guy at school, the most likely to succeed—and Chris would too. Success was definitely in the cards for Chris, and Tyler was just grateful he got to go along for the ride. He couldn’t wait for the day he could do it openly.
“I thought you guys would never get your arses into gear. How about a race back to the stables?”
Lachlan’s mare threw back her head and whinnied as if she agreed with the plan. Chris laughed at her antics and ran his hand down the mane of his own horse. Ty wished that hand were touching him, not the bloody horse, so a race sounded perfect to him. The faster they got back the better. Ty pulled his gaze from Chris and locked eyes with Robbie, who stared unflinchingly at him. That familiar feeling of unease crept over him, and he looked away to avoid Robbie’s gaze that Tyler was sure took in too much.
“C’mon, last one back is a rotten egg,” Lachlan shouted as he took off at a rate of knots.
“Yee-ha!” Chris pulled on his reins, heels kicking into the flanks of his mare, taking off after their friend and leaving Robbie and Ty to bring up the rear.
The wind rushed past as Ty stood in the stirrups, galloping hard and fast, he and Ranger moving as one. Hooves pounded the ground next to him and he turned his head to see Robbie draw alongside on his stock horse. Robbie grinned, a cheeky smile on his face, then faced forward and urged his horse on, gaining a slight lead. Ty smiled, but there was no way he was going to let the little brat beat him.
Ty put all his focus into making sure he wasn’t going to be the last one back. He and Robbie rode side by side, thundering across the paddock, powering through the cloud of dust and raising more in their wake. Adrenaline spiked and Ty’s blood pumped as he held on to the reins for dear life. He glanced at Robbie, who had a look of determination on his face, totally focused on the race.
So the kid likes a bit of healthy competition? Ty grinned and rode harder.
Suddenly the smile wiped from Ty’s face, as the sound of a commotion rent the air—hooves beating, a horse screaming, and a loud, agonised shout. Ty’s blood ran cold. Through the dust ahead, he saw Chris’s mount galloping away and Lachlan pulling heavily on the reins to bring his own horse under control. Ty thundered across the short distance, only to pull up sharply at the sight of Chris on the ground.
“Oh jeez, fuck, no.” He jumped from Ranger’s back and fell to his knees in the dirt, his heart in his throat.
Chris’s eyes were wide and staring. Ty struggled to process what he was looking at. Chris didn’t blink. The angle of his head, the vacant stare—it was all wrong. Ty closed his eyes, hoping that when he looked back, Chris would be looking up at him with his shy smile.
Please, God, please.
When Tyler opened his eyes, nothing had changed. Chris’s eyes were empty, the light gone from their amber depths. Ty couldn’t look away. A silent chant started in his head. No, no, no. He rocked back and forth on his knees, his arms wrapped around his chest to hold them back from pulling Chris to him. He shouldn’t be moved. What if moving him is dangerous?
Lachlan dropped to his knees beside Tyler and reached out a hand towards Chris.
“No! Don’t you fucking touch him!” Ty swiped wildly and shoved Lachlan’s arm away.
“What the fuck?”
Tyler tried to ignore Lachlan’s angry words. He needed to focus on Chris; he reached out and touched Chris’s arm. The skin was warm and soft, exactly as he remembered. He looked to Chris’s face again, that blank stare. Nausea rose, bile burning the back of his throat. Ty swallowed thickly. Tears started to fall and his chest felt like it was being ripped apart.
Oh my God.
“I’ll go call an ambulance. You stay with him, Lachy. Don’t worry about the horses, I’ll round ’em up later,” Robbie said.
Ty looked up to where Robbie was mounted on his horse, his usually tanned face pale and serious. Robbie nodded at Ty, then pulled the reins and took off at a gallop towards the house, a kilometre or so away.
“It’ll be all right,” Lachlan said softly and reached an arm around Ty’s shoulders.
Ty shoved him off.
Things would never be okay again.
Tyler Samuels had his reasons for leaving the country town where he grew up. He moved to the city, established a home and a career, and found love. Now Ty is in his early thirties, and as his life takes another tragic turn, he finds himself returning to the place he first ran from.
Mac McGrath has lived in Armidale all his life. He loves his family and his job as an electrician, running the family business. The only thing missing in his life is a relationship. When Ty, his teenage crush, arrives back in town, maybe he has found someone to love at last.
What starts as friends with benefits quickly turns to more for Mac, but Ty will need to let go of his memories if he is to learn to love again. But can Mac wait that long?